Spirit of East Harlem on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 104th Street.
This past weekend, the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) hosted Jane’s Walk weekend with more than 100 free walking tours. We decided to take the tour given by MAS and East Harlem Preservation, aptly named “Lost and Found Murals of East Harlem – Buildings on Canvas”.
While the East Harlem of the 1930’s was predominantly Italian, after the first World War, East Harlem welcomed a vibrant Latino and Puerto Rican community that brought with them a wealth of culture in their art, food and music.
Our very knowledgeable Walking Tour Leader, Kathleen Benson Haskins, has been actively involved in the community for over twenty years. In addition, we were joined by the Founder and President of East Harlem Preservation, Marina Ortiz, who has spearheaded an effort to restore and showcase the East Harlem buildings that have served as a canvas for these works for more than fifty years.
Spirit of East Harlem was defaced in 1998. Restoration by Manny Vega, Jr.in 1999.
The above mural, Spirit of East Harlem, was completed in 1978 by Hank Prussing, a young artist from Maryland who was in East Harlem surveying the neighborhood’s public art for an architecture course at Pratt Institute. The Reverend George Calvert, Pastor of the Church of the Living Hope on East 104th Street, suggested that Prussing paint a mural. Local stores donated the paint and a scaffold. Mr. Prussing painted what he saw – the people in the community. After the mural was defaced by vandals in 2009, a local housing organization, Hope Community, sponsored a restoration which was done by noted local artist Manny Vega, Jr.
MAS NYC the East Harlem Preservation on our Jane’s Walk Tour of the murals in East Harlem
If the size of our group was any indication of this years Jane’s Walk, we can guess that it was a huge success. Above, the tour is gathered around the Celia Cruz mural on 103rd Street just off Lexington Avenue, which was painted by James De La Vega in 2003.
A homage to the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz, the mural was painted by James De La Vega.
Below, the Modesto Flores Garden, which was a collaboration between Hope Community and Grow NYC. The garden has textured murals, sculptures and a footbridge. In the photo, the tour group is viewing a mural of Frida Kahlo and Julia de Burgos painted by local artist Yasmin Hernandez.
Reverend Pedro Pietri was born in Puerto Rico but was a lifelong resident and prominent figure in East Harlem. He was the poet laureate of the Nuyorican Movement and founder of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe where many of the New York Puerto Rican and Latino artists performed. This mural, which is adjacent to the East Harlem Cafe on 104th Street, was painted by James De La Vega in 2004.
The Helio-Chronometer was a collaboration between Marina Gutierrez and architect James Comejo. This solar clock spans 100 feet of a wall of a school facing Lexington Avenue. This sundial contains elements from Mexican cut paper arts, a sampled Hip Hop local street graphic, a Chinese “lace paper” rooster with palm frond, a pre-Columbian textile snake, an African arc of Ndinkra symbols with Egyptian eye and a Coquil, whose shadow hovers over an arc of sugar cane.
The Dos Alas Mural was created in 1999 by the Ricanstruction Network and the members of the youth organization Puerto Rico Collective. It depicts the portraits of Pedro Albizu Campos and Che Guevara.
Like many of the artists before him, Manny Vega created the mural Espiritu as a reflection of the people in his community. He views his glass and mosaic mural as a visual prayer and a way to share histories, customs and beliefs.
Walking through East Harlem with prominent locals Kathleen Benson Haskins and Marina Ortiz as our guides drew welcoming nods from residents, and it was our good fortune for them to run into the famed East Harlem photographer Hiram Maristany, whose current exhibit ‘Anchor’ , depicting decades of life in El Barrio, is currently on view a few blocks away at the Hunter College East Harlem Art Gallery.
Each mural had a story and historic significance, very much interconnected with the surrounding community. Below is the Julia de Burgos Mosaic by artist Manny Vega. This mosaic was unveiled in 2006 as a tribute to the Boricua poet. It is located on the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 106th Street.
On the north facing wall of 234 East 106th Street (above), which is a building that houses several artists’ studios, there is a mural painted by artist Maria Dominguez and student from the Amber Charter School, with the wording “Amber Forever….Together We Can”.
A mural honoring political prisoners Oscar Lopez Rivera and Avelino Gonzalez Claudio (below) can be found on Third Avenue and East 107th Street. Since the mural was painted, Avelino has been pardoned. But Oscar, now age 72, is still incarcerated. The mural, which has succumbed to vandalism, will be restored this month in time for the 34th anniversary of his incarceration and a March and Rally scheduled for May 30th which will be held on 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd. Civic organizers, politicians, church groups and members of the community will come together to ask President Obama for his release.
The tour ended at East Harlem’s Graffiti Hall of Fame on 106th Street, just east of Madison Avenue at the Jackie Robinson Educational Center and around the corner from El Museo Del Barrio. The tour lasted about an hour and a half and encompassed about four square blocks.